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Suspension Bridge Important to Future

There are a number of good things set to take place in the coming years in downtown Wheeling: the long-awaited Streetscape project; a new parking garage at 11th and Market streets; and expanded downtown living options, to name a few.

But one key to downtown — both from an access and an image standpoint — remains: what will be the long-term fate of the historic Wheeling Suspension Bridge? Will it once again open to vehicular traffic? Or will it serve simply as a link to Wheeling Island for pedestrians, preserved in that fashion so future generations can understand and experience one of the true engineering marvels of the 20th century?

No one yet knows.

“At this point, it’s too soon to tell. That decision has not been made that I’m aware of,” West Virginia Division of Highways District 6 Engineer Tony Clark said this past week. “I believe the plan was to kind of evaluate it as it’s being opened up to see more of the deficiencies that couldn’t be seen on the surface.”

What’s he talking about with the bridge being “opened up” is the current $17 million renovation the span is undergoing. Crews with Advantage Steel & Construction of Saxonburg, Pennsylvania, are reinforcing the span, repairing and re-wrapping the cables, painting the span and upgrading the lighting. It won’t be until all that work is complete before any decision can be made on whether the bridge — which has been closed to all but pedestrians since September 2019 after a series of ill-fated events including two tourists buses traversing span — can reopen.

As we’ve noted previously, simply renovating and re-opening the span to traffic without putting into place safeguards will result in disaster. If that’s the plan — to rely on the motoring public to abide by the 2-ton weight limit (most vehicles exceed this limit) — then we simply will be setting ourselves up for failure. It would be better to keep the bridge open only to pedestrian traffic than to risk permanent damage.

State officials need to examine this question over the coming months to come up with a plan to ensure the span’s long-term viability. The Suspension Bridge is far too important to the area’s history — and also to Wheeling’s future — to allow us to fail it once again.

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